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An Organization for South Asian Women

The Manavi BLOG

Karma settles A more powerful punishment than the court system


by Vimmi Surti   

Suppression or an oppressed emotion leads to more damage on an individual. In my opinion, it is important to break the silence against violence because violence in any form is counter-productive to one's own nature. The wrongful act must be punished if not in the court-rooms than by the society.

The recent Tanushree Datta (Bollywood actress) case has indeed awakened the entire nation, for men and women to stand up for the injustice and come together to begin an unstoppable movement. Ms. Datta's act of speaking loudly and clearly about sexual harassment is applaudable as she gives voice to the voiceless, who are hidden behind the doors with their own stories of abuse.

Abuse in any form is violence, may that be verbal, emotional, psychological or physical. It is revitalizing to know one voice (Tanushree Datta case) gave an uproar to an extent of transforming it into a #MeToo movement in India.

In order to bring about a positive change against the injustices like harassment, bullying, domestic violence, sexual abuse an environment of healthy discussion is more essential than debate. A dialogue enhancing the understanding of what these words mean and how it affects our mind, body 
and soul may bring out more meaningful responses in thought, word and action.

India has come a long way in 2018 compared to other South Asian countries. However, much work on part of stopping violence needs to be done.

In the end, Ms. Datta has done an exemplary job of calling out names of perpetrators that must be punished. She for sure has set a positive example, “Truth” and “Karma” cannot be wiped off because of time, money or powerful position.


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Colorism Lives On


by Aysha Qamar


I like to think that as the years are progressing, as a society we are advancing in culture. From the addition of a third gender in India, LGBT rights being addressed in Pakistan and campaigns like and ‘Try Beating Me Lightly’- it seems as though acceptance and awareness of issues in the South Asian community are increasing.

But while some issues are finally beginning to see light- we often overlook the issues that are impeded in our culture and affect our youth continuously.

“Don’t go outside in the sun- you’ll get darker.”

Colorism is an issue that affects not only the perception we have of one another but the perception we have of ourselves. While global campaigns such as ‘#unfairandlovely’ are challenging the widely-held belief that fair skin is the most attractive- more work needs to be done in our communities to address the issues of anti-blackness and 
colorism.

As South Asians, while 
colorism and anti-blackness affect the wellness and mental health of our communities- we also benefit from anti-blackness. The fault is often taken away from us and given to those who are darker. We embody the ‘Model Minority Myth’ that is built on the pillars of anti-blackness. We fuel anti-blackness by depicting ourselves as the better race, taking pride in our lighter skin ultimately creating a narrative that enforces a racial divide. “While we may not be white at least we are not black.”

We benefit from anti-blackness because it allows us to not be the target. We participate in it by condemning dark skin by allowing anti-blackness to continue internally within our communities. We are not succeeding by 
conforming this way of thinking but instead failing ourselves by strengthening and empowering white supremacy.

We fail to see this ideology only hurts our youth, only weakens our people. Colonial ideology still exists—the idea that white is better and that brown is better than black still haunts us years after our “independence.”

Without even realizing, we as South Asians often continue a culture of anti-blackness through traditions like applying 
haldi to our faces, purchasing products with bleaching characteristics and thoughts like staying away from the sun. The fear of becoming dark roots from a culture of anti-blackness we too often fail to acknowledge.

We need to encourage one another to embrace our culture, embrace our race and break the stereotypes in place for us. End the culture of anti-blackness by no longer fearing the sun, no longer fearing a tan that brings us away from whiteness and no longer 
encourage bleaching.


Reflections


by Navneet Bhalla
 
“He hit me, multiple times during each incident on my face, arms, head, belly, pulled my hair and abused me and called me a bitch, whore, slut, bastard and much more in my language. Towards the last 4 years of our marriage he brainwashed me into admitting that I was a complete disgrace to him and the family we built and that if he was in my place, he would commit suicide out of shame, in other words telling me to commit suicide. He also started to threaten to kill me and when I expressed fear or feeling unsafe with him he called it my self-inflicted depression”. (Read Neha Rastogi’s full victim-impact statement).

On June 15, a Santa Clara County Superior Court judge reaffirmed a plea deal that allowed a former Silicon Valley CEO to serve only 13 days in jail for allegedly abusing his wife for over a decade.  Although
Cuberon co-founder, Abhishek Gattani was ordered to serve 30 days in jail as part of a plea deal, he will only serve 13 days due to his good behavior and time already served.  Gattani will also have to serve five months of community service and will undergo a 53-week anger management program.  In this particular instance, the risk of deportation for the perpetrator carried more weight than the safety of the victim when determining the sentence.

Our justice system failed Neha Rastogi and every survivor who lives with domestic violence.  Neha
Rastoghi said she called the abuse terrorism. “That’s how I felt – terrorized and controlled, held hostage by the fear of pain, humiliation and assault on my being and my daughter’s”.  No woman should have to endure what Neha Rastogi experienced.  It sends the message that their voices are not heard when the perpetrator is an influential, affluent and powerful member of our community.  When our society is confronted with gender-based violence, money, status and power are at play.  Manavi condemns such violence and stands together with Neha Rastogi and every woman who seeks justice.  We must continue to support and empower women, fight patriarchy and advocate for a more just legal system.


A New Era

by Sonal Miller
 
On January 20 the United States inaugurated a new president with an agenda that is in direct opposition to the wishes of at least half of the country.  There have been a lot of questions and concern as to what will happen to our country in the coming years.  People are worried that women will be further marginalized under the present administration.  On January 21 it has been reported that over a three million people marched in the United States alone and that there were demonstrations in over sixty other countries around the world about this issue. 
 
South Asian culture is mired in ideas that have repressed and marginalized women.  While this unfair narrative is a
long standing part of the fabric of our culture it should not preclude us from deliberately and thoughtfully unraveling it from our existence.  Though we know anecdotally that South Asian women seem to have a high incidence of domestic violence, the studies are few and far between.  A 2002 study found that 40% of the 160 participants had endured some sort of violence.  Based upon the relative lack of research it can be extrapolated that we need more funding not less to understand the scope of our problem.  We need more awareness inside our community.  We need to talk about it.  We need to be heard.
 
I was inspired when I watched Kamala Harris speak at the Women’s March on Washington.  It was as if she spoke directly to me.  Perhaps it was because she is half Indian or because she is a woman.  I have thought about it and I have realized it was because she had the conviction and strength to share what she believes in.  It wasn’t necessarily who she is but what she said.  She said that women’s issues deserve consideration because they encompass our shared existence- whether it is violence against women, the economy, the environment, equal pay or national security.  They are all women’s issues. 
 
What is next?  The news is grim these days.  The Trump administration is likely to cut funding for grants related to the Violence Against Women Act.  They are passionately in pursuit of defunding Planned Parenthood and repealing the ACA or Obamacare.  They show no interest in equal pay for all.  There are countless issues that affect women and their families.  It is almost too daunting to know what to do in response but
action is required in all shapes and form. 

How can we be heard?  How can we effect change?  How can we stand our ground?

Be informed

Follow the news- stick to credible sources
Sign up for non-partisan apps like Countable, ICitizen, The Congressional Record that allow you to be informed about what Congress is voting on
.Contact your representatives both on the state and national level

These people, all of the way up to the president, are there to serve you.  Remember that.  You have a voice that should be heard.

Send emails via apps like Countable to your representatives
Call Congress: 202-225-3121.  You will be connected to your representatives by the switchboard.  It can be as simple as saying, “I know that Senator X is voting on Friday, I am a constituent of hers and I would like her to know that I agree/disagree with this legislation”Talk to the people around you

People will listen if you are calm, have the facts and present a succinct case.  While we all need to talk to people that are likeminded, remember that only “preaching to the choir” doesn’t help in your cause.  Speaking to others who might not share your views is important.   Do it respectfully, with understanding and with facts to back you up.

Start with your family- let them know that change has to happen. Your children need to understand the importance of making a difference
Listen to opposing viewpoints.  There may be something to be learned from those who do not agree with your stance.  In the least, you will have passed along your views in a constructive way
.These tasks will not take up much of your time but they will help to further your cause infinitely.   You may not always feel that you have the strength or resources to be involved but it is so important that you are.  You can do this.  We can do this.


River of Fables (Kothanodi) – A Film from Assam

by Shefali Mehta
 
I watched Kothanodi on Netflix few weeks back. The theme and the storyline was really interesting as well as disturbing to me. After watching the film I tried to find more information about it as I was really intrigued by the stories and Assam. We don't get to see many regional films unless we are frequent visitors of South Asian film festivals in the US.

The film has four interwoven stories.  These stories are based on a popular Assamese bedtime book called Burhi
Aai’r Xadhu (Grandma’s Tales). But the dark and moody atmosphere of the film hardly makes it a tale for children as it has a grim theme of mothers killing their daughters in a variety of unbelievable ways.
 
The setting of these stories are the beautiful and magical villages of Assam
of an unknown era. The female characters of these stories are hard to forget, recognizable and haunting women. We come across such women in this day and age as well. Through these stories we see that the serenity that we expect from a village life is misleading and shattered. As the stories unfold we see that the ancient religions and superstitions take hold in the most gruesome fashion. The film delivers not only one of the most gruesome and savage experiences in recent Indian film history, but also provides a window into a region of India that is often hard to know.
 
One of the most painful
story in this film is about a couple whose first three baby girls are sacrificed and buried on the advice of a man’s guru. When the woman tries to save the fourth child she learns the deadly secret behind this ritual and is shocked. The man buries a crying baby in the middle of the night in a very hair-raising forest scene. This scene is repeated several times in the film and has stayed with me for days to come.
 
Another story is about an innocent young girl, whose adoring father travels to a distant land for business leaving her with her schizophrenic step-mother. The step-mother loathes her step-daughter and was obsessed with the feeling that the girl is there to harm her. She had an
illusive demon lover with whom she plots to murder the step-daughter. The torture of the young girl by the mother are really hard to watch scenes in this movie. Sometimes you want to close your eyes.  Interlinked to this story is a story of this young girl’s friend in the same village whose mother is planning to marry her to a large python in the hope that it is really a prince in disguise who will shower the riches on the family. Sadly this marriage leads to an extreme and unforgettable consequence. The fourth story is linked to the young girl’s father who meets a young temperamental woman during his travels. This woman lives as an outcast because she had given birth to cantaloupe size round green fruit. This fruit rolls around and follows her wherever she goes. The merchant wonders if there is a baby inside the fruit and helps the woman to find it.

The director Bhaskar Hazarika has created a suspenseful, mysterious and magical film and poses radically disturbing questions about motherhood. The women in these stories are portrayed as cruel mothers. The film not only has supernatural elements but alongside has characters who make these unearthly tales seem almost plausible. 

The movie has some
well known actors of independent cinema: Seema Biswas, Adil Hussain, Zerifa Wahid, Kopil Bora and Urmila Mahanta.

Even though the tales are set in a bygone era, the female characters of this film can be found anywhere today. It reminded me that many times the woman herself is the perpetrator of an abuse of a woman, her daughters, and young girls.


The Girl Who Like(d) Pink

By Malabi Deb

I came back from school, unlocked the door, took off my soft suede boots and socks and set my foot onto the beige, wool carpet which sunk in as if absorbing every bit of your fatigue. Yet, the luxury was lost to my tired feet. I felt like an intruder lurking behind the shadows into somebody else’s house. This apartment, every corner of it, had been decorated by me. 

It bore my stamp from the porcelain cherubs on the mantelpiece to the glass lamps on the walls. At times, it resembled a piece of my dream and yet, it filled me with utter sadness. Whenever I looked around this house, I wanted to crumble into a ball and cry. It was a $3000 rented apartment and yet it made me feel poor.

It was cold and as soon as I turned on the central heating, the warmth buzzed through the tall ceilings into my walk-in closet and den. At the same moment, the phone rang breaking the silence of the house like a shrill alarm. Knowing that it was him, I hastily flung away the dishcloth in the kitchen, unhooked the phone from the wall and said, “Hello.” 

“Are you home?” he asked, in a hurry. “Yes, I am…   everything ok?” I asked. “Yes, we have to get to Ron’s party in half
hour. I am already at the Lincoln Tunnel, so please dress up quickly. And,” he paused, and I could almost imagine the expression in his eyes, “Wear something good. I want you to look the best at the party.” 

I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach, and as I slowly replaced the phone. Coming back to take a look at myself in the mirror, I studied the face searching for
flaw, the invisible lines, some semblance of a cracked fairy-tale. Today, I had left the house at 6 am, worked all day, taken two exams, hadn’t slept more than four hours for the last few months and was also having my period. All I wanted to do was sleep, not even talk or cook for my husband. But, that was not to be had, there was no escaping marital duty whether it was in a crowd or in a bed. 

In Tagore’s Chokher Bali, a novel
written at the turn-of-the-century, the newly married wife Ashalata tells her aunt, that if her mother-in-law is upset with her, she will run away back to her country. To this, her aunt says she had no country to go back to, the British had divided Bengali into East and West, and her home was lost to her forever. She also adds with a smile, “When a girl marries, her father’s home ceases to be hers. Despite all odds, she has to learn to adopt her husband’s home as hers.” Asha doesn’t understand much about nationhood until much later, when Binodini, the widow defiled and denounced as a seductress, explains to her. But, she grasps the concept of a woman’s loss and sacrifice to an extent. Like Asha, I often felt that somewhere between my journey in the midst of the Atlantic and Pacific, I had lost my home. A part of me which no matter how many times I went back to India, would never come back to me.      

Slowly, I set to work on my face, as a geisha prepares herself for battle. I reapplied the foundation that had been smudged away in sweat, and lipstick, put on mascara, and yet something was missing. I looked beautiful, but being the most alluring in a roomful of equally decorated New York women was hard. With a sigh, I opened my Dior make-box which was my rescue under dire circumstances. It was a box of magic potions which could lift up even the most exhausted of complexions, and add a sparkle to the dullest eyes. After
few minutes of labor, I stood before the bathroom mirror in a sheer black brassiere and stockings, happy with what I saw. Yet, it made me slightly sad. My husband never noticed them, or me. Often, it was an appreciative glance at a dress I wore as his eyes quickly flitted away to the next thing. 

I walked upstairs to the closet to pick a dress. My hands stopped at a pink and white concoction, like whipped cream, frail like cumulous clouds before the rain. I had always loved pink, or white, but my husband hated them. “Oh Mish, change your look. You can wear any color in the world, wear something dark. I’m so tired of seeing you in white! And, pink? Is that even a color for a mature young woman? You’re my wife now, so stop pretending to be a little girl.” 

I let go of the pink dress, wondering which part of me still liked pink. It had been effectively washed out of my palate along with the rest of the things that represented me. I was only a shadow of my former self, as I looked back into the mirror, I could see conformity sinking in. On very rare summer days did I skip back home from school, when I knew I’d have a little time to myself, to be the way I loved to be. I would walk around the house dreamily without chores to complete, none of my stopwatch routine to follow. 

My husband always liked me to be doing something, if I sat idle and read a book, he’d be displeased. I smiled to please others, rarely for myself. I lived in eternal fear of losing I didn’t know what. 

I brushed these thoughts out of my head. It was getting late he’d have crossed
Seacaucus by now, thought. Quickly, I picked up a black dress that was expensive and appropriate. As I put on a pair of long earrings, a day very similar to this came back to me. It was two years back when we had just been married. My husband’s cousin Preeti's wedding was being held, and we were attending her haldi function at her in-laws’ place. They lived far, in a big intimidating gated community in Long Island. 

We were incidentally also moving house on the same weekend and so, the whole affair was chaotic. Tempers were flying and the
amount of things that needed to be packed created further furor. I was sitting next to my husband in the car, looking resplendent in a red sari with a gold mangtikka adorning my head, some light bangles and a thick gold chain around my neck. 

My husband had been pleased with the way I looked but something had set off his mood in the other direction. I was upset myself but as our car drew closer to the gated community where my in-laws stayed,
full aware of his flaring temper. Just a few blocks before we were to enter, I told him that we had taken the wrong direction. Without a word, he slapped my face. I held my face in silence too shocked to say anything as tears filled my eyes, but even before I could anticipate, he held my hair with his free hand and slapped me again. This time, the giant gold earring I wore, tore my ear. Pain ripped through me almost numbing my senses. But, I knew telling him to go back would ruin his evening and make us lose face before his relatives.  I calmed myself, telling myself that this moment would pass, the pain would pass but what would happen if we didn’t attend today’s function would never be forgotten. I looked at him beseechingly and said, “I’m sorry… for whatever I have done to displease you. Please forget it. Let us finish this properly.” And, so we did. 

The relatives admired me and complimented him for bringing home such a pretty bride. I bowed my head and touched the feet of elders or important people. It was an evening I spent in a blur of pain and humiliation. I wanted to hide and cry somewhere, but everywhere I turned there were people heavily decked, gorging on food or gossiping. At some point, I excused myself and walked into the restroom. The woman who stared back at me looked angelic. I asked myself, how this was remotely possible. Crying and then making sure no tear strains showed, I came out. Yet, I got through the evening. I filled a plate of food for my husband and handed it to him. I accepted his hand on my cheek when he happy, with the evening’s delightful progress, forgot our fight. I forced myself to eat some, even though everything felt like sand in my mouth. 

That night, when I finally went to sleep, I thought of the little girl who had come to this country with dreams in her eyes, how she had hoped to be loved, to have a new family of her own. Life had changed its course suddenly, like a river in spate drowning her in its avalanche of currents. Clots of pink still caked my ears, my wet cheeks
and torn lip. I had once loved this color, bright and fresh like spring itself. Now, I hated it. 


What does change look like to you?


by Dr. Malini Waghray

Let’s talk about pushing the envelope- about stepping out of our boundaries.  Can you point to what change looks like to you?
In the context of women's everyday lives and the rest of the world- I was wondering if we can talk a little about something on these lines: about change and how it doesn't come easily. About how things like traditions and beliefs remain the same despite material progress and how we need to take a leap and make a (different) choice with small steps
. . The air of outdated traditions and societal expectation lingers and is re-enforced by previous power structures set in place. Mindful routine revisions are needed in multiple ways to make way for a new era.

These are answers of real women to what change looks like to them. 

Change is when a strong woman leader is not called 'bossy' and given the same privileges as her strong male peer.
Change is when women don't need to have their health care choices be determined by old men who feel the need to punish and tax
female population for being.....women!!!
Change is when men teach their sons the meaning of respect regardless of gender. Respect is the key to preventing violence and abuse. Hope that in the future there will be no need for organizations such as Manavi to exist.
Change is a
women not being forced to choose between a career and homemaker, with governments and employers supporting family friendly policies for women AND men
Change means when you are amongst a group of men talking business you are not ignored or rubbished off for being a woman or looked at amazement for having spoken smartly and for being aware.
 Change is when each mom talks to her kids about what she has experienced and what she would like to see changed in the future
Change is when we stop judging women for their look, for the way they are dressed or their skin color & it goes both ways if somebody is blond it doesn't mean she is
bimbo.
Change looks like all the strong women who stand for change, just like the ones who commented above. I am fortunate to know all of you!
Change will come with equal pay, when the Supreme Court reflects the diversity of our nation, when we have the first female POTUS, I can go on...
 Change is 
equal opportunity to education for girls and boys.
 Change is when men who have seen their fathers have the upper hand always, will now demand their wives be treated at
same level as themselves.
Change is equal pay. Safe spaces for women to travel, to work...to enjoy. Change end of patriarchy.
 Change is when a teacher/professor doesn't look to a boy to answer when a girl had her hand raised first.
Change is when you come back from work and the man makes dinner and invites the kids and the wife to the table----does the dishes too!)
Change is when men and women equally contribution the growth of family and 
shapes the future of new generation (kids)Reflect upon yourself. What does change look like to you?


Verbal Abuse in South Asian Communities


 by Prachi Jain
 
For years, there's been a consolidated effort to veil a certain type of abuse - verbal abuse. It is pervasive among the South Asian communities in the United States, yet not widely discussed or dealt with. 

What is verbal abuse?

Verbal abuse is a type of domestic abuse where the perpetrator attempts to dominate, control, or exert force over his/her partner. There appears to be a large number of South Asian women who are victimized by verbal abuse. Some of the traits of verbal abuse are:

Degradation of
victim in the presence of family and/or friends
Expressing hurtful jokes despite the victim's requests to stop
Humiliation and disdain
Criticizing
Questioning one's sanityWhy is verbal abuse so rampant in South Asian communities?
South Asian societies have followed marked gender discrimination as a norm for centuries. This has led to the second class status of women in society. Most women in South Asian communities are raised to be demure and meek, with the belief that they are expected to uphold moral and cultural values. Where South Asian girls are taught to be tolerant, any rude behavior by boys has a nonchalant connotation to it - "boys will be boys". Society is comfortable when boys
are are demanding and unruly, while girls are submissive. When a girl express her opinions, she is criticized for not behaving like a girl.

While the South Asian culture trains its women to acquiesce, it also grooms its men to be less compassionate. Women are taught to bear. They are taught not to respond, but to tolerate. They are taught not to retaliate, but to be docile. From some South Asian films to cultural discourses, much of this community's focus is on depicting its women as people who need to
be look after and controlled. 

A girl growing up in a South Asian household learns that tolerance is a virtue. One may learn to tolerate harsh weather, long hours, and financial struggle. However, tolerance has never been meant to endure verbal or physical abuse in a relationship. Over centuries, tolerance has become synonymous with bearing just about anything, even abuse. This distorted concept of tolerance is so ingrained in girls by the society that by the time they reach adulthood, they become attuned to responding to commands rather than requests. The South Asian community is also particularly guilty of emotional suppression as a technique to show strength. Even in
current day, a girl is groomed to obey the commands of her future husband. In society's eyes, a quiet woman is a woman who was raised well by her parents. 

What can the South Asian community do as a whole to right its wrongdoings?

Although, things have changed in the South Asian community in regards to the position of women, it hasn't changed at the pace as it should. Society as a whole must work hard to teach the importance of having an open dialogue with boys and girls in their formative years. By instilling the doctrine of gender quality in boys and girls, we can bring about change. Parents must train boys and girls to be considerate of others' feelings. South Asian films must start depicting women as strong and independent, while portraying men as sensitive considerate and respectful to women.